Ichi-Riki is an odd establishment. It’s a bit Alice in Wonderland, in that you probably won’t find it unless you’re looking for it. The doorway to this elusive eatery is on Strutton Ground, a small street in which five stalls constitute a market at lunchtimes. Time Out thinks it’s a real market. It isn’t.
Even if you do find Ichi-Riki, you’re starving hungry and you fancy some sushi, you’re pretty unlikely to enter. This is because Ichi-Riki’s entrance is probably one of the most unwelcoming in the history of the world, the universe, and everything.
It’s a dingy little doorway leading down a dingy staircase to a dingier looking front door. You can’t see into the restaurant. The staircase is clothed in a range of faded, Microsoft word adverts showing pieces of sushi with Japanese writing scrawled beneath. It’s a bit sushi house meets underground crack den… but don’t be put off. Because the brave will be rewarded at Ichi-Riki.
The restaurant, once located, is bite size. There’s about six tables and a long sushi bar. The decor is questionable, and you can hear exactly what your neighbours are saying. This isn’t usually ideal unless you get lucky, as we did on our visit, when we were seated beside two people obviously on a first date in which the female, clearly pissed, felt obliged to inform the entire restaurant, for the duration of the meal, of her superior knowledge of Japanese cuisine. It got to the point where she entered the kitchen to obtain a specific spice which she informed her partner would ‘really bring out the taste of the sesame seeds’. He looked like he wanted to die. It was fantastic.
Anyway enough about the mating rituals of morons and imbeciles… on to the food. Ichi-Riki serves a wide range of sushi, sashimi and other Japanese dishes, including a couple of meat options. The meal deals are very good value for money, however unlike most sushi restaurants here you’re also able to order a la carte without having to sell your house the next day.
I opted for the Ichi-Riki Special, not expecting much as by now I’d pretty much made my mind up that this wasn’t a fine establishment. I was forced to eat my hat though when the food arrived, all beautifully presented and colourful. A variety of nigiri including salmon, tuna, sea bass and squid were accompanied by six pieces of salmon roll, salmon sashimi and salad. Fresh, melt in the mouth deliciousness. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the pickled mackerel which I presume to be a refined taste held only by those who have unfortunately had their tongues removed in some horrible accident.
Boy chose the ‘Yakitori’ set, a meal of grilled chicken skewers with yakitori sauce with rice and house salad. The chicken was moist and tender with a sweet sticky sauce – rich yet great.
The mains were accompanied by miso soup, which seems pretty tricky to get wrong but was a hell of a lot better than those of big chains serving mass produced conveyor belt fare. Drinks are inexpensive, with wine from £3 per glass (unheard of in the area) and service is faultless.
The Verdict: A hidden gem. It’s not ‘cool’, it’s definitely too small and there’s no neon, but the quality of the food and the prices make it worth every penny. Be brave, give it a try.
17B Strutton Ground